From ski-out to gear storage: 10 tips for picking the best ski vacation home rental
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
There’s really nothing quite like a ski trip — especially one you can take with family or friends.
You have a built-in healthy activity to do during the day but with a big wide mountain (or several, depending on where you go), there’s also the freedom to spread out and do things your own way so you don’t get tired of each other by the second afternoon.
In the evenings, you can regale each other with tales of your day on the mountain, soak in the hot tub and enjoy some apres-ski beverages as you plot the next day’s adventures.
You can take a big ski trip and stay in a hotel (in fact, here are some of my favorite ski hotels), but with a group, it can be more affordable and enjoyable to book a ski vacation home rental instead of a block of individual hotel rooms.
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While there are similarities in what you should look for in a ski vacation home rental and, say, a beach home rental, there are also some major differences.
You’ll want to follow all the normal steps of looking for the perfect home rental, of course, such as reading reviews and carefully inspecting the photos. But if you’re in the market for a ski home rental, here are a handful of specific factors to keep in mind to find the best snowy house for your trip.
Related: Planning a ski trip with points and miles
Bigger is better
Ski vacation rentals become better deals the bigger you go.
The really awesome, amenity-filled homes with pool tables, vaulted ceilings, hot tubs and professional kitchens are usually larger properties with four, five or six bedrooms.
Not only are the larger houses usually nicer than, say, the two-bedroom condominiums, but if you’re sharing the big house with another family or two, you’ll also get a better deal.
For example, a couple of years ago we rented a 4,000-square-foot home in Breckenridge, Colorado, that could accommodate 22 people for $1,100 per night. That’s obviously a big price tag, but the house comfortably fit three families of four and three sets of grandparents. Start dividing that cost out by family and the true cost per person (or family) isn’t that high.
Best of all, the home had a sledding hill, foosball, a great kitchen and a hot tub.
Then there was the ski-friendly home in Winter Park that had not only a solid hot tub but massive windows out of which we viewed most epic sunrises each morning before putting on our ski gear and heading to the mountain.
It’s also just much more fun to pile your friends and family together instead of retiring to your hotel room to watch yet another Netflix series at night.
Rethink ski-in, ski-out access
It will surprise absolutely no one to hear that ski-out properties are much more expensive than those a little farther from the slopes.
Of course, ski-in is much more convenient, but you need to put a price on convenience. Ski-out is most valuable when you have young skiers, assuming they’re able to navigate the ski-out terrain. After all, a first-time preschool skier may not be able to navigate the ski-out terrain to get to ski school at first, which may negate some of the value.
But, generally speaking, if you’re juggling nap times or lots of gear for little ones, ski-out access becomes more worthwhile. It’s also valuable if you’re going to need to trade off ski time with another adult to watch little ones who are staying home.
If you decide to splurge on ski-out access, triple-check what that even means for every listing.
Does it mean you can strap on your skis and go, or is it still a several-hundred-yard walk to the powder? Know for sure what location and access you’re getting before you decide it’s worth the convenience upcharge to stay in a ski-out rental.
Related: 7 mistakes to avoid on a ski trip
Consider parking — and plowing
When choosing the best ski vacation rental for your group, make sure there’s enough parking for everyone — especially if you’re going to arrive with multiple vehicles.
Equally important is researching the street and driveway situation in the event of winter weather.
For example, will you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access the home when there’s snow and ice? Does the driveway and access road get plowed in a timely fashion, or are you on your own to get all the way to the rental when the snow begins to pile up?
My family once had a really hard time accessing a ski rental home on a hill, as one of the rental cars just kept sliding back down since the neighborhood road wasn’t plowed.
It wasn’t just inconvenient — it wasn’t safe. So, know the situation so you can choose the best home for your vehicle and driving situation and strongly consider getting a vehicle with four-wheel drive if there is any question.
Make time for relaxation
If the marquee amenity for a beach home is a pool, the marquee amenity for a ski rental home is a hot tub.
Your aching legs will really thank you for a good soak in the hot tub after a busy day racking up runs down the mountain.
Unless night skiing is on your agenda, there’s also the reality that ski days end pretty early, as lifts usually shut down by 4 p.m. or so for much of the season.
So, you’re going to need some built-in entertainment at your lodging. A hot tub is a great addition to other amenities such as a pool table, darts, a collection of board games and other diversions.
Related: These are the best Colorado ski towns
Bunk beds can be great — or awful
For a family ski trip, the best thing in the world may be a room full of bunk beds where all the kids can go to have a great time while the adults hang out.
If you’re traveling with a group of grown-up friends, however, pay close attention to the description of the sleeping arrangements for the home. It may say it sleeps 22, but only if six of those people are in bunk beds and the remaining 16 sleep two to a bed.
Then again, the swanky W Aspen has bunk bedrooms it presumably markets to groups of friends, so maybe a bunk bedroom could work after all for the right group, but just know lots of ski homes get creative with bedding once you get beyond the main bedrooms.
Related: How to use points on vacation home rentals
A 10-person ski trip means 20 skis, 20 boots, 20 poles, 20 gloves, 10 jackets, 10 helmets and a ton of other gear — much of which is often still dripping with melting snow when you’re done for the day.
The best ski vacation rental homes have a dedicated spot for taking off and storing all that gear as soon as you walk into the house.
It may sound like a small detail, but it can make a huge difference when you’re dealing with a bunch of damp gear that’ll need to dry overnight and be organized for the next morning.
At a ski rental home, especially during these still unusual times, you’re probably eating in more than if you were at a warm-weather destination where outdoor dining was easier.
So, kitchens matter — especially with a big group.
It can be surprisingly fun to take turns whipping up a hearty stew or pancakes for two dozen skiers, but only if you have the kitchen space to pull it off. Factor in fridge space, dining table seating and general elbow room if your ski house plan will include home-cooked meals.
Prepare for the worst-case scenario
Hurricanes can wreck your beach house plans, but winter ski home rentals aren’t immune from Mother Nature’s wrath.
Snowstorms can stop you from getting in (or out) and an unlucky year can lead to a lack of snow. And let’s not forget how quickly a pandemic can derail your travel plans.
Travel insurance may be a wise plan for a large investment such as a ski rental home. It likely won’t cover you if you simply change your mind because you’re anxious about traveling or the conditions aren’t perfect. But trip insurance should help if you can’t get there — or can’t get out.
A pricier cancel-for-any-reason policy is smart if you want to be able to back out if the snow doesn’t fall during your trip — or a global health crisis derails your plans.
Otherwise, most ski vacation rentals are either nonrefundable or have at least a 30-60-day cutoff for cancellations.
Search for perks
Some home rentals come with ski lift access — an incredibly valuable perk.
I’ve also seen some property management companies with relationships to ski resorts such as Keystone, Jackson Hole and Steamboat. These vacation rental homes may come with deals such as kids-ski-free discounts if you book your stay directly through the management company.
Related: Resorts where kids ski free
Be strategic when looking for deals
If your search is finding only ski vacation rental homes far beyond your budget, first try shifting your dates away from the busiest weeks.
The week between Christmas and New Year's Day, for example, can be three times pricier than a ski week in January. But if you’ve already tried that and still aren’t finding what you need, venture beyond the best-known mountains.
Remember to price out places like Wolf Creek and Crested Butte, Colorado or Taos, New Mexico, where you’ll likely spend less not only on your home rental but also on everything else ski-related, than if you're just sticking to names such as Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen.
Related: Best ski resorts for families
There are some amazing ski vacation homes out there, but some of them can run upward of $10,000 per night. If you’re working with unlimited resources, go for the best of the best and have an amazing trip.
But, if you have a budget and need to pick and choose what amenities and features to prioritize, you’ll need a strategy that considers the location, built-in perks, entertainment, sleeping space and more. It's very possible to find a ski home that can be split between two or three groups for $1,000 or less per night.
Finding the best ski vacation home can be tricky if you’re newer to skiing and boarding, but with these tips, you should be well on your way to a fun, memorable stay near the powder.